Classic Ferrari racers from the 1950s and 1960s, led by Testa Rossas, are the world’s most valuable motor cars, according to a ranking of auction prices.
Two examples of the 250 Testa Rossa lead the list of public sales, adding to the Italian maker’s popularity among collectors in private transactions — which can realize even higher prices.
Investors have been concentrating on marques seen as the most desirable and safest purchases as prices rise to records. Ferrari has nine places in the top 20 auction list compiled by Bloomberg from sportscarmarket.com, beating Mercedes-Benz, with four entries, and Bugatti’s two.
“While an increasing number of classic cars are sold at auction, the very top end of the market remains resolutely ‘private treaty’ territory,” Simon Kidston, founder of the Geneva-based advisers Kidston SA, said. “I doubt we’ll see a Ferrari 250 GTO, Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic or Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 coming under an auctioneer’s gavel any time soon.”
The Testa Rossa (“Red Head”) won the Le Mans 24-Hour race in 1958, 1960 and 1961. The record $16.4 million paid for a 1957 prototype at Gooding & Co. in California was in August 2011: that tops the Top 20 auction list, based on hammer prices plus fees.
There has been a flurry of big-ticket Ferrari private sales since then. The Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa in which the U.S. driver Phil Hill won the 1958 Le Mans was sold for about $25 million in the spring of 2012, according to anamera.com, a website for classic auto dealers.
In June 2012, a further $35 million — a record for any car — was given for a 1962 Ferrari GTO 250 racer that had been made for the U.K. driver Stirling Moss, traders confirmed to Bloomberg.
The 250 GTO coupe, created in 1962 to compete at the Le Mans 24-Hour and other Grand Touring car races, is regarded by collectors as the most desirable of all classic Ferraris. Just 39 were made. At least three have been sold privately for more than $30 million, said dealers. None has been offered at auction for more than 20 years.
The auction Top 20 has another 250 Testa Rossa from 1957 in second place, with a $12.4 million price at an RM sale in Italy in 2009. A 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Roadster is in third, with an $11.8 million price at Gooding & Co, Pebble Beach, California, last year. The list also includes a Bugatti Royale, a Duesenberg and a Shelby Daytona coupe.
Owners of the world’s rarest cars don’t want to take the risk of their value being compromised by a failure at a public auction. They prefer to sell discreetly to a fellow collector, said Kidston, a co-founder of the car auctioneers Brooks, now Bonhams.
Nonetheless, the auction market for classic cars continues to grow. Sales held by Gooding, RM, Barrett-Jackson, Bonhams and Russo & Steel in Arizona in January generated an aggregate $223.8 million with fees, $39.9 million higher than last year, according to according to Hagerty, a U.S.-based classic car price database.
Ferrari 250 GT convertible road cars set the two highest individual prices, raising $8.25 million and $8.1 million at Gooding and RM respectively. These remain the highest prices achieved at auction so far this year.
“I expect Ferraris of the late 1950s until the late 1960s to remain at the top of the collecting tree,” Kidston said. “Were the market decided by merit, the status quo might be different, but it’s determined by wealthy collectors, not historians, and billionaires tend to hunt in packs.”
The HAGI index of exceptional classic-car prices advanced 16.1 percent in 2012, said the London-based www.historicautogroup.com. It uses data from both auction, private and dealer transactions.